21 October 2012

Gooooood morning, Hanoi!

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes” - Marcel Proust (early 20th century French novelist).  How true.  Being an urban dweller my entire life in a fast-developing second world country, witnessing first-hand life in this third world Socialist state caught me off guard to some extent.  But that was only because I had again foolishly allowed myself to be stereotypical.  As it turned out (and even though Facebook is banned here), Hanoi wasn't at all what I'd imagined it to be - oppressively-regimented in true KGB fashion.  Instead I found myself in a beautiful city with a bustling street scene, a vibrant nightlife and a people with modern, liberal ideals.  I quickly learned to like the place.  In fact, it didn't take long for me to find my comfort zone amongst the cool, funky swing of things which make this city uniquely Hanoi.

In the last four decades, Hanoi has changed tremendously; or so the locals tell me.  Since the mid-1980s (through the "Đổi Mới" reforms period), Vietnam has made a shift from a highly-centralised planned economy to a socialist-oriented market economy which employs both directive as well as indicative planning.  Nowadays, she is in a period of being integrated into the global economy and indeed is considered one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

Nearly all Vietnamese enterprises are small-to-medium enterprises and the country has become both a leading agricultural exporter as well as an attractive destination for foreign investors.  Whilst Vietnam remains essentially a one-party communist state, North Korea she certainly isn't - quite the contrary actually.  Here, there's plenty of evidence of ownership and capitalist ideals.  I am told that lifestyles and standards of living have improved dramatically - especially in the last 20 years.  But so has the cost of living;  and living day-to-day remains a challenge for many (as you shall see from my photos).  But being the hardworking, hardy people that they are, I have no doubt that there can only be better times ahead for the Vietnamese people - and on this note, I wish them well.

Vietnam opened her doors proper to tourism 20-odd years ago and now welcomes about four million visitors each year.  And whilst her people embrace Western-influenced cultures (fashions and iPhones included) with a passion, they also hang on to their local traditions, customs and lifestyles with similar ferocity; and this is very evident in Hanoi.  Walking through the bustling tree-lined streets and character-laced alleyways of the Old Quarter for instance, visitors will immediately notice espresso bars selling cappuccinos, mochaccinos, frappuccinos and Al Pacinos situated next to third-generation businesses selling incense burners and joss sticks.  Or an authentic D&G outlet next to a phở bò restaurant which no doubt would miserably flunk hygiene inspections - however lenient - in the West.  Having said that, I honestly wouldn't have Hanoi any other way for these are the very things that make the city tick.

Okay, I've talked too much already (after all, I had meant this to be a photoblog).  So let me now take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of Hanoi.  I'll show you something to make you change your mind.

Many of Hanoi's streets are well-shaded by trees which also add colour to the city

A typical shop facade in the Old Quarter of Hanoi

A fruit vendor selling her produce from a bicycle

Oi Len and I flanking KC, my lovely and gracious Facebook friend from Hanoi

Banana vendor setting up "stall" on a sidewalk

Mom (foreground) patronising a sidewalk fruit vendor

Street vendor selling dragonfruit and green mandarin oranges

The most common mode of transportation in Hanoi (and Vietnam)

Red bike

A typical alleyway in Hanoi

Earning a comfortable livelihood remains a challenge for some

I find the people of Hanoi (especially the women) to be extremely hardworking people

School's out!

Phở bò (beef noodle soup) - Vietnam's favourite dish

Bún bò (soup containing rice vermicelli and beef)

Phở cuốn (rice noodle rolls with greens and sauteed beef)

Bún chá (rice noodle with grilled pork soaked in fish sauce)

Quán Ăn Ngon, Hanoi - lovely restaurant, excellent food, reasonable
prices, always packed;  need I say more?

Custard coffee; luxuriously sumptuous with a killer punch (thank you, KC!)

Old lady washing vegetables

In a fast-paced city, time slows to a crawl for some

Watching the passing of time in his golden years

Weekend get-together with friends over coffee and a ciggy or two

Coffee tastes better with friends

Most popular spot for iced lemon tea in Hanoi; that's Oi Len (centre) and mom (right)

Hanoi by night

6 million bikes in a city of 6.4 million; that's nearly one per capita

Family of four on a bike

Cafe street in Hanoi; the city never quite sleeps

Sidewalk food stalls like this are found throughout the city

Dinner at a sidewalk food stall

Time for catching up (and gossip)

This particular vegetable vendor was there from dawn till after dark;
honest, hardworking people they are

Everyone here yearns for a Vespa - US$3,500 for a locally-assembled
unit or US$7,000 for one imported from Italy

Hanoi is unique, charming, vibrant, colourful... sexy even.  Too bad I only had five days to spend there; but five days was all it took to buy me over.  In that short period, I have grown extremely fond of the city, her sights and sounds, her food and above all, her people.  Warm, friendly and always smiling.... I say to them (and to my new friends there), "Tôi sẽ trở lại", I shall return".

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  1. Bún chả (not Bún cá) ^^. Cá means Fish, Vincent. And Bún chả is made from Pork, rice noodles, vegetables and fish sauce. ^^
    I love your note. Thank you.

  2. Bún chả (not Bún cá) ^^. Cá means Fish, Vincent. And Bún chả is made from Pork, rice noodles, vegetables and fish sauce. ^^
    I love your note. Thank you.

  3. Excellent!

    The thoughts and accompanying pics brings back great memories of the years shuttling in and out Vietnam back then.


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